Eman al-Nafjan

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Eman al-Nafjan
Eman al-Nafjan EFF.png
Alma materUniversity of Riyadh,[1] University of Birmingham[1]
Occupationwriter, educator

Eman al-Nafjan is a Saudi Arabian blogger[2] and women's rights activist.[3] She was detained by Saudi authorities in May 2018 along with Loujain al-Hathloul and five other women's rights activists in what Human Rights Watch interpreted as an attempt to frighten her and the other activists, during the 2018–2019 Saudi crackdown on feminists.[4]

On March 14, 2019, PEN America announced that Nouf Abdulaziz, Loujain Al-Hathloul, and Eman Al-Nafjan would receive the 2019 PEN America/Barbey Freedom to Write Award, which was presented on May 21 at the 2019 PEN America Literary Gala at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. [5]

In late March 2019, the women presented their defence and described physical and sexual abuse they had endured in captivity. Eman al-Nafjan, together with Aziza al-Yousef and Dr Rokaya Mohareb were released on bail.[6]

In September 2019, al-Nafjan received "The Prize for Courage", awarded by Reporters Without Borders. She remained barred to travel out of Saudi Arabia, and hence could not collect her award.[7][8]

Childhood and education[edit]

Al-Nafjan was born in Saudi Arabia, the daughter of a Saudi military officer. She earned a bachelor's degree in English at what at the time was the University of Riyadh (KSU). She worked as a school teacher and later a university teaching assistant. She earned a master's degree in Teaching English as a foreign language from the University of Birmingham in the United Kingdom.[1]

Al-Nafjan taught pre-medical English at KSU. She encouraged students to discuss their opinions freely and write about them, which a student at the time, Omaima al-Najjar, described as "unheard of in Saudi schools, where we were not allowed to have an opinion or even question the teacher on any matter that involved religion, culture or politics". Al-Nafjan openly stated her strong opinions in favour of women's rights at the time.[9]

In 2013, al-Nafjan was conducting research aiming to obtain a PhD in linguistics at KSU.[1]

Blogging and activism[edit]

In February 2008, al-Nafjan began blogging as 'Saudiwoman', writing about Saudi social and cultural issues with a focus on women.[10] Her blog became one of the most popular Saudi blogs read internationally. Al-Nafjan blogged about topics that were taboo in Saudi Arabia at the time, including criticising male-guardianship as an "abuse system", opposing child marriage and interventions by the religious police, and documenting internet surveillance by Saudi authorities.[9]

On 17 June 2011, she drove a car in Riyadh as part of a women's driving campaign during the 2011 Saudi Arabian protests.[3] She began publishing articles in Western media about the campaign to allow women to drive in Saudi Arabia.[11] In October 2013, al-Nafjan was arrested while filming a woman driving.[12] In September 2016, al-Nafjan signed a petition as part of the campaign against the Saudi male guardianship system.[4] Al-Nafjan was highly active in supporting other activists in the women to drive campaign and in contributing to public debate on the issue.[9]


Around 15–18 May 2018, al-Nafjan was detained by Saudi authorities, along with Loujain al-Hathloul, Aziza al-Yousef, Aisha al-Mana, Madeha al-Ajroush and two men involved in women's rights campaigning.[13][14][15] Human Rights Watch interpreted the purpose of the arrests as frightening "anyone expressing skepticism about the crown prince's rights agenda".[4] Saudi authorities accused the arrested activists of having "suspicious contact with foreign parties", providing financial support to "hostile elements abroad" and recruiting government workers.[16]

In November, 2018, she was apparently being held in the Dhahban Central Prison.[17] According to Amnesty International, the detained women's rights activists including al-Nafjan were subjected to torture and abuse.[18][19]

In March 2019, al-Nafjan was released on bail along with some of the other crackdown detainees.[6]


  1. ^ a b c d e "Eman Al Nafjan". Cyberdissidents.org. Archived from the original on 12 March 2013. Retrieved 26 April 2011.
  2. ^ Davies, Catriona (14 April 2011). "Ten must-read blogs from the Middle East". CNN. Archived from the original on 17 October 2015. Retrieved 20 April 2011.
  3. ^ a b Burke, Jason (17 June 2011). "Saudi Arabia women test driving ban". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 19 June 2011. Retrieved 19 June 2011.
  4. ^ a b c "Saudi Arabia: Women's Rights Advocates Arrested — Jumping Ahead of Crown Prince's Reforms Risks Jail Time". Human Rights Watch. 18 May 2018. Archived from the original on 19 May 2018. Retrieved 19 May 2018.
  5. ^ "Nouf Abdulaziz, Loujain Al-Hathloul, Eman Al-Nafjan". PEN America. 12 September 2019. Retrieved 13 February 2020.
  6. ^ a b Michaelson, Ruth (28 March 2019). "Saudi Arabia bails three women on trial for human rights activism". the Guardian. Retrieved 28 March 2019.
  7. ^ Journalists from Saudi Arabia, Vietnam and Malta honoured at RSF’s 2019 Press Freedom Awards, September 12, 2019, RWB
  8. ^ Reporters Without Borders honors journalists who fear for their lives, Deutsche Welle
  9. ^ a b c al-Najjar, Omaima (10 December 2018). "What it means to be a women's rights activist in Saudi Arabia". Al Jazeera English. Archived from the original on 6 August 2019. Retrieved 6 August 2019.
  10. ^ "These Saudi Women Have Been Imprisoned For Their Activism". Time. Retrieved 26 November 2018.
  11. ^ "Eman Al Nafjan". the Guardian. Retrieved 20 May 2018.
  12. ^ "Saudi Women's Rights Activist Eman al-Nafjan Arrested Ahead of Driving Ban Being Lifted - Fanack.com". Fanack.com. Retrieved 4 November 2018.
  13. ^ Female activists detained ahead of Saudi driving ban reversal, 20th May, The National
  14. ^ Saudi Arabia arrests female activists weeks before lifting of driving ban, By Sarah El Sirgany and Hilary Clarke, May 21, 2018, CNN
  15. ^ "Saudi Arabia 'arrests women's rights activists'". Al Jazeera English. 19 May 2018. Archived from the original on 19 May 2018. Retrieved 19 May 2018.
  16. ^ "Saudis detain women's advocates ahead of driving ban lift". ArabianBusiness.com. Retrieved 20 May 2018.
  17. ^ "Saudi Arabia: Reports of torture and sexual harassment of detained activists". www.amnesty.org. Amnesty International. Archived from the original on 12 January 2019. Retrieved 21 November 2018.
  18. ^ Lawler, Opheli Garcia. "Saudi Arabia Accused of Torturing Jailed Women's-Rights Activists". The Cut. Retrieved 26 November 2018.
  19. ^ "Amnesty says Saudi activists beaten, tortured in detention". The Seattle Times. 20 November 2018. Retrieved 26 November 2018.

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